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Grab your cowbells, it's playoff time

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor


Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Whoa.

What a night for Major League Baseball. Unless, of course, you happen to follow the Boston Red Sox or Atlanta Braves, both of whom ripped the hearts from their fans on Wednesday by completing epic collapses, leaving both of them on the outside for a postseason that gets underway on Friday.

The Red Sox collapse was just a stunning turn of events following an offseason that not only saw them land Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, but one that saw them draw comparisons from within their own city to the 1927 Yankees.

A Boston newspaper even labeled them the "Best Team Ever" in its preseason baseball preview.

Despite getting off to one of the worst starts in team history, the Red Sox were still nine games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays as late as September 2. The team, though, just went into an incredible freefall, and dropped 20 of their final 27 games before ending it all on Wednesday in the ultimate heartbreaker.

For a fans base that had been tortured so many times before finally winning a pair of World Series titles in 2004 and '07, the events on Wednesday were an awful reminder of what had become common place for so long in Boston.

Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon gave up two runs in the ninth to an awful Baltimore Orioles team.
Forget the fact that Jonathan Papelbon gave up two runs in the ninth to an awful Baltimore Orioles team that was already guaranteed a 14 straight losing season, the Red Sox would still be playing on Thursday had Tampa Bay not rallied from seven runs down before pulling out a win just minutes after the Red Sox' collapse.

That, just one night after the Rays turned a triple play to escape a no-out bases loaded jam.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and say maybe it's not your season.

It's hard not to give credit to the tremendous job that Joe Maddon did, but as impressive as the Rays have been, the Red Sox lost this spot more than Tampa won it.

Of course, now we have to be subjected to empty seats at Tropicana Field. And those who do show up will no doubt be ringing those cow bells that became synonymous with the Rays during their run towards and American League pennant in 2008.

It wasn't quite as dramatic in the National League, but the Braves saw what was a 10 1/2-game wild card lead as late as August 25 evaporate, as they went 10-20 down the stretch and lost their final five games to seal it.

The last loss was a 13-inning setback to the Phillies on Wednesday in a game that saw them lead 3-2 in the ninth before rookie closer Craig Kimbrel gave it up. Again, as good as the St. Louis Cardinals were to catch them, the Braves did more to lose the spot, than Tony La Russa's crew did to claim it.

Either way, though, this much is certain. If Wednesday's action was a precursor to what we are about to see over the next few weeks, Dig in, it's going to be a wild ride.

So, let's take a look at how the Division Series could shake out:

TIGERS - YANKEES:

Everything on paper suggests the Yankees should win this series easily. But, as the Boston Red Sox taught us this past month, these games aren't won on paper. How the Yankees were able to get to 97 wins this season with the starting staff they had is quite an achievement. But, we've heard it a million times. Good pitching beats good hitting every time. The Yankees supplied their starters with more run support than any team in the league. History tells us that won't happen in the playoffs. If the Yankees get Game 1 against Verlander they could get by here, but I have a feeling the righty's magical season continues here.

TIGERS in FOUR

RAYS - RANGERS:


This is a rematch of last year's ALDS, which the Rangers won in five games. The outcome is going to be different this time around. Why? Well I am starting to buy into this "Team of Destiny" thing. Whatever it is the Rays just have that magic going for them right now. It also helps that the Rays have terrific pitching. This series has five-game dogfight written all over it. James Shields was one of the best pitchers in baseball this season and should be on full rest in a potential deciding game. Both teams proved last year that homefield advantage means nothing with the road team winning every game. The Rays won't be intimidated with having to win a Game 5 in Arlington.

RAYS in FIVE

CARDINALS - PHILLIES:


The panic in Philadelphia has subsided, as the Phillies got back to business this week, winning their final four games and knocking the Braves out of the playoffs. Everyone knows what the Phillies are. They essentially played a 162- game exhibition to get to this point. They may not score a lot of runs and their bullpen might not be as flashy as you would like, but this rotation is the best that we have seen for some time. We can't rank them among the all- time greats, though, unless they win a World Series. That mission starts against the Cardinals. Had the Cards not had to throw Chris Carpenter on the season's final day, I may have liked them a little more here. Not much more, but a little more. No offense, but Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse are not Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

PHILLIES in THREE

DIAMONDBACKS:- BREWERS:


This could be the best of the four Division Series matchups. Both teams are so evenly matched. Milwaukee is a little deeper in the starting rotation department and has a little more pop in their lineup and that should be the difference. Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke are a pretty solid 1-2-3. Not to mention in a tight series like this, it's always wise to go with the team with home field advantage. I don't think it gets to a fifth game, though.

BREWERS in FOUR

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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